Can Rabbonim Make Mistakes?



Many people feel that well-meaning Rabonim who get advice from well-meaning doctors are getting incorrect information with regards to the safety of the Covid vaccines. Is it possible that Rabonim do make mistakes with Siyata Dishmaya?

A very recent example is the closing of shuls during the beginning days of Covid. Obviously, during those times no one knew the severity of the virus, so surely closing down was the proper decision at the time (at least according to most people and the data that was readily available), but knowing what we know now it is a sure thing that young people are safe from the virus and these closing down of the shuls wouldn’t happen today. So is that a “mistake”?

In Vilna, they put the Chassidism into Cherem (ex-communication) and declared them to be heretics with whom no pious Jew should intermarry. That was certainly a mistake.

Lastly, if there is an actual chance of a Rov making a “mistake”, how can there be more confidence in the Rabonim?



This is a general question about the infallibility of Torah sages. To address this properly is beyond the scope of this platform, but I’ll make some general observations.

There are two basic approaches to this general question:

  1. One must follow what the rabbonim say even if they are in error, as this is the desire of Hashem. In other words: while their arguments might not be true, the halacha follows their position even if it’s not true.
  2. An alternative approach is that a person must consider the fact that Hashem will certainly protect the rabbonim and ensure that they don’t make any mistakes.

Of course, one should always take into account that it is very likely that they’re not in error to begin with, and the only reason one thinks they are mistaken is because one does not have accurate information or is not that advanced in one’s Torah knowledge.

As for the examples you mentioned, vaccines and shul closures, without getting into the specific details of those matters: while in your opinion they might have been in the wrong, it could very well be that the rabbonim possess all the information that you have, but are aware of many other details and facts which you’re not aware of which impacted their decision. Indeed, many people maintain that those decisions have actually saved many lives. As mentioned, once they reached this decision, their position should be followed regardless.

The example you gave about the ex-communication of the Chasidim in Vilna is very different. The halacha is that when Beis Din judges an individual or a group, they may not accept testimony about their behavior without allowing the individual to hear the testimony and be given a chance to challenge it. Furthermore, once they have heard incriminating evidence without the individual being present at the time, they may no longer rule on this case. Any dispute which involves a plaintiff and defendant may only be ruled on if both parties are present and are allowed to present their position in front of the court. If this process has not been followed the ruling is meaningless and void.

This is in contrast to general halachic rulings which involve determining correct or incorrect behavior, where one must obviously follow the position of Torah sages and rabbonim, even if one tends to disagree.

The fundamental difference here is: this applies only when judging a person, when adjudicating a dispute, not when determining a halacha.



אופן הראשון – חינוך תצו. דרשות הר״ן דרוש חמישי נוסח ב ד״ה ואף אם. וראה גו״א שופטים יז, יא. וראה גם מדרש שמואל אבות א, א ד״ה ועשו. ועד״ז בעיקרים ג, כג. באר הגולה ד, ד. וראה קדושת לוי ואתחנן ד״ה וירד ה׳.

השני – רמב״ן שופטים יז, יא. (ושם גם כאופן הא׳. וראה גם רמב״ן בסהמ״צ שרש א). וראה בפי׳ דבריו בשו״ת חת״ס השמטות חו״מ קצא. ובאו״א משמו – מהר״ם שיק אבות א, א ד״ה והא דנקט. וראה גם הקדמה לקצוה״ח. וראה גם ובחרת בחיים פלאגי שופטים שם בפי׳ דבריו. ועד״ז ברמב״ן שופטים יט, יט לענין עדים זוממין. ומצינו כעי״ז גם בדרשות הר״ן דרוש יא. (ושם גם באופן הא׳). וראה גם נתיבות עולם נתיב התורה יא. וראה באברבנאל שם בארוכה. ושם כתב לבאר באו״א. וכעי״ז בעקדת יצחק שם.

ובכ״מ מצינו כעין ד׳ הרמב״ן, ושלמעשה לא יבוא מזה מכשול מסיבות אחרות וכו׳  – ראה בפי׳ הגר״א למשלי טז, י.  שו״ת ויען אברהם פלאגי אה״ע כח ד״ה ואוסיפה.

ובכ״מ שאינו מביא תקלה על ידיהן, ומכוונים לאמת מחמת סייעתא דשמיא. ומקרא מלא הוא: ואין למו מכשול. וראה ל׳ הרמב״ן במלחמות כתובות י סד״ה ארב״ח.

[ובכ״מ, שהתורה פועלת על מציאות העולם, וע״ד נמלכו בי״ד לעבר השנה בתולי׳ חוזרין. וראה לעניננו בארוכה בלקו״ש ה ע׳ 127 ואילך. ואכ״מ].

וידוע השקו״ט בפי׳ על ימין שהוא שמאל,  ובסוגגית הגמ׳ הוריות ב, ב, ובגי׳ שבספרי: מראים בעיניך. וראה בארוכה לקו״ש שם הע׳ 26. ט ע׳ 321 ואילך.